Campaign finance confusion commonCome campaign finance reports missing; candidates receive conflicting information.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
To file or not to file campaign finance reports — that was the question.
After the May 25 deadline to file the reports passed for county, legislative and statewide candidates, The Daily Republic began seeking copies.
Some were missing.
Initially, Davison County treasurer candidate Christie Gunkel’s finance report was missing. It was later filed with the Davison County Auditor’s Office.
But the report of Roger Hofer, a candidate for District 19 House, was never filed with the Secretary of State’s Office in Pierre.
Gunkel said she was told by a member of Secretary of State Jason Gant’s staff that she was not required to file campaign finance reports prior to Tuesday’s primary election.
That turned out to be incorrect advice.
Incumbent Davison County Treasurer Brenda Veldheer, correctly, it turns out, did file by the May 25 deadline.
According to South Dakota Codified Law 12-27-39, candidates for statewide office, as well as candidates for county offices who reside in counties with a population of more than 5,000 residents, must file campaign finance reports detailing income, expenses, donations from political groups, and individual donors who give more than $100.
Candidates in uncontested primary races are not required to file.
Reporting provisions also apply to the school board candidates in school districts with a daily attendance of 2,000 or more students. Mitchell has 2,539 students by the most recent official count. Business Manager Steve Culhane said school board candidates must file finance reports with his office, but not until after the election. They are simply filed away and are not forwarded to Pierre.
Culhane was not able to explain why school board candidates would be allowed to file after the election instead of on May 25 with the other candidates, other than to say that’s the way it’s always been handled.
Gunkel said she was later told by Gant’s office that she did in fact have to file a finance report.
Confused by the conflicting information, she decided to cover all bases and filed a report with Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke on May 30.
Gant, in a telephone interview with The Daily Republic, would neither confirm nor deny that incorrect filing information was given to Gunkel.
“The state’s attorney is going to be the one who has to determine whether or not a law was broken,” Gant said. “Candidates need to call the state’s attorney to determine what law they need to follow.”
Kiepke was upset about the situation.
“I found the lack of consistent information from the state’s highest election official to be confusing,” Kiepke said. “That’s who we look to for information. When you can’t get it there, you’re out of luck.”
In the future, Kiepke said, she will err on the conservative side and recommend that candidates file campaign finance reports.
Davison County State’s Attorney Pat Smith said his office would not hold Gunkel liable for any penalties for following incorrect advice. Penalties of $50 a day may be imposed for each day beyond the filing deadline, according to state law.
Mitchell Superintendent of Schools Joe Graves said the school district can ask school board candidates to file, “but if they don’t, we don’t have any enforcement mechanism. The law requires it, but whether they do or not is up to them.”
Deputy State’s Attorney Jim Taylor said election law is clear. In Davison County, county and school board candidates are required to file campaign finance reports.
Different laws apply to city-level candidates, who are not required by state law to file campaign finance reports unless their city requires it, which Mitchell does not.
An update to SDCL 12-27-39, which goes into effect July 1, requires the filing of campaign finance reports on ballot questions in counties and first class municipalities — cities with a population of more than 5,000 people — and school districts with an average attendance of 2,000 students.
The measure, said lead sponsor Rep. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, was created in the wake of questions over who was supporting billboard campaigns in the Rapid City area.
“If candidates for the Legislature or school board have to file reports, then affiliated members of a political action committee should have to as well,” Kirkeby said.
Following are summaries of reports filed in local races.
Davison County treasurer
Incumbent Davison County Treasurer Brenda Veldheer listed unitemized contributions (less than $100 per donation), totaling $300; personal contributions of $688.45; in-kind contributions for signage from Greg Wise, for $350; and expenditures of $988.45.
Christie Gunkel listed $520 in unitemized contributions from individuals; $800 in itemized contributions, including $100 from Chris and Nicole Solomon, $100 from Tim Herll, $100 from Kevin Vermeulen and $500 from John and Melissa Iverson; and $1,590 in personal contributions to her campaign. Gunkel also listed $2,752 in expenses, plus $150 in donations to other candidates, leaving a cash balance of $7.78.
Gunkel won the election.
District 20 GOP Senate primary
Steve Sibson, candidate for District 20 Senate, used $525 of his own money to run his campaign and reported money from no other sources.
Incumbent Sen. Mike Vehle, RMitchell, listed $6,869.44 in cash on hand at the beginning of the reporting period; unitemized donations (less than $100) of $549; and a total of $1,900 from the following itemized donations: $200, South Dakota Action Committee for Rural Electrification; $250, South Dakota Ethanol Producers Political Action Committee (PAC); $300, South Dakota Manufactured Housing Association PAC; $250, Six-PAC, the South Dakota Beverage Industry PAC; $250, South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations PAC; $100, South Dakota Pork Producers PAC; $200, South Dakota Realtors PAC; $250, South Dakota Telecommunications PAC; and $100, South Dakotans for Quality Cable Television.
Vehle also listed $100 from Altria Group Inc., a federal PAC; and $7.09 in interest income. Expenses were listed as $5,244.14 in operational expenses and $460 in donations to other candidates, leaving a final balance of $3,921.39.
Vehle won the election.
District 19 GOP House primary
Incumbent Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton, listed $1,930 in unitemized contributions ($100 or less); $5,800 in itemized donations, including $200, Lloyd Bender; $1,000, Robert Bender; $125, Darlene Engelmeyer; $125, Robert Engelmeyer; $250, Alfred Johnson; $250, James Ness; $250, Lorraine Ness; $200, Dale Barnhart; $200, Betty Otten; $200, Mark Sip; and $3,000 Nelson donated to his own campaign; and non-cash contributions of $400 — all against expenses of $4,631,95 and debts of $180 for advertising, leaving a cash balance of $2,878.05.
Kyle Schoenfish, of Scotland, listed $563.50 on hand at the beginning of the reporting period; a total of $1,965 in unitemized donations (of $100 or less); $1,000 in itemized donations, including $200 from Gary Jerke; $500, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether; $150, Randy Schoenfish; and $150, Loretta Schoenfish, against expenses of $1,234.69. Schoenfish also lists unpaid expenses of $972.70 for advertising and a final balance on hand of $2,293.81.
Sen. Jim Putnam, of Armour, listed cash on hand at the beginning of the reporting period of $1,674. Putnam also lists $100 in unitemized contributions (individual donations of less than $100); $400 in itemized contributions from individuals; and $2,500 in direct contributions from PACs, including: $100 from the Committee for Fair Play; $200, South Dakota Committee for Rural Electrification; $150, Six-PAC, the South Dakota Beverage Industry PAC; $1,000, South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations PAC; $300, South Dakota Medical Group Management Association PAC; $150, South Dakota Pork Producers PAC; $200, South Dakota Retailers Association PAC; $250, South Dakotans for Quality Cable Television; $150, Soy PAC. Putnam also received $100 from the Altria Group, a federal PAC. He listed expenses of $2,968, leaving a final cash balance of $1,806.
Roger Hofer, of Bridgewater, did not file a report. He was among 30 legislative candidates statewide who did not file.
Nelson and Schoenfish won the primary.